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Philip Johnson's Houston


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Each city seems to have its favorite architects. One that has repeatedly improved the built environment in Houston is Philip Johnson. Here's a sample of his and his firm's work.

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Bank of America Center

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Williams Tower

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Chapel of Saint Basil

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One Post Oak Central

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Pennzoil Place

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University of Houston College of Architecture

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Ah yes, he has designed almost all my favorite buildings in Houston ;).... But you forgot one important work of his though: Chapel_of_St._Basil.png

And he was also such a complex character. On the one hand, in his youth he used to be a Nazi sympathizer who event went to Nazi Germany in the 30s, but after the war he regretted his support and even worked with the Israeli government (if I understand correctly, that had to do with the Bauhaus style, which is very prominent in Tel Aviv). Also, while he is idolized by many, I have also heard the claim that he was not so much a designer than a planner (that his personal work often lacked creative spirit). Of course I cannot judge this as a layperson. So my question to more knowledgeable people than me: what do you think of this (maybe not so much about the Nazi thing, because the question of how genuine his repentance was will have to remain subjective, but more about the artistic criticism...)

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Ah yes, he has designed almost all my favorite buildings in Houston ;).... But you forgot one important work of his though: Chapel_of_St._Basil.png

I'm sorry, I seem to have overlooked the Chapel in your original post :huh: But it is a nice building so no harm in having it up here twice... (although my favorite building in Houston still is the Bank of America Building, followed by Pennzoil Place and the Williams Tower...)

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He did the main University of St. Thomas campus, which was his first work in Houston. He did the Marshall Field's store at the Galleria, which later became Lord & Taylor. He did a shopping center in Sugar Land.

The Galleria Marshall Field store became Sak's Fifth Ave.

Edited by Houston19514
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The Menil house was his first work in Houston. Another later project was the College of Architecture at UH.

(This is a much more appropriate topic for an architectural forum than "Selected quotations from leading environmentalists" which really are out of context quotes from mostly obscure "environmentalists, pasted from an unemployed CAD programmers website. Talk about baiting.)

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Johnson has received his share of criticism for being derivative and a creature of fashion, but I think that in a career spanning so many years that is to some degree inevitable. Styles changed, and it was to be expected he would as well, but the down side is that you can never really look at a building and see the personal element that makes it a Johnson building. In a sense his own voice doesn't seem to come through.

In Houston we are really lucky to have some of his best work: Williams, Pennzoil, and One Post Oak, and perhaps to a lesser extent, BoA. To me, Pennzoil and One Post Oak earn the ultimate archictecture compliment: although they were built decades ago they still look fresh and sophisticated (I would say the same about Tenneco). St Thomas I like but wouldn't consider great. UH Architecture School is weaker still, although I wouldn't say he deserved the scorn he received for copying the design.

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Johnson has received his share of criticism for being derivative and a creature of fashion, but I think that in a career spanning so many years that is to some degree inevitable. Styles changed, and it was to be expected he would as well, but the down side is that you can never really look at a building and see the personal element that makes it a Johnson building. In a sense his own voice doesn't seem to come through.

In Houston we are really lucky to have some of his best work: Williams, Pennzoil, and One Post Oak, and perhaps to a lesser extent, BoA. To me, Pennzoil and One Post Oak earn the ultimate archictecture compliment: although they were built decades ago they still look fresh and sophisticated (I would say the same about Tenneco). St Thomas I like but wouldn't consider great. UH Architecture School is weaker still, although I wouldn't say he deserved the scorn he received for copying the design.

Good analysis. I agree completely.

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Yes the house, but not the museum, which was designed by Renzo Piano.

ahhh yes, Renzo, he was one of my favorite architects while i was in college and still is :)

It's kind of ironic how Philip Johnson did the College of Architecture building at U of H, yet when i attended the college almost everyone i knew hated the building or shall i say they didn't like Philip Johnson calling him a "copycat", but then again no matter what u do one can never please everyone. there will always be someone who hates it.......

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My husband's office is on the top floor of one of the Pennzoil towers, with the slanted ceiling. I tell him he's lucky to work in a Philip Johnson building, but he just says it's too HOT! The downside of too many windows in Houston!

We used to have meetings up there on special occasions when we had important folks in town. Would see Mr James L. Pate dash in and out of his office. Fantastic views but hot and I wonder if they still have those beautiful rock formations from dig sites on pedestals through out?

This architect did good, I agree. Ahead of his time for sure.

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Johnson has received his share of criticism for being derivative and a creature of fashion, but I think that in a career spanning so many years that is to some degree inevitable. Styles changed, and it was to be expected he would as well, but the down side is that you can never really look at a building and see the personal element that makes it a Johnson building. In a sense his own voice doesn't seem to come through.

Dramatic flair.

Think about it: the AT&T building with the Chippendale top, the "Lipstick" building, a Flemish Gothic skyscraper in Houston, TX, of all places, that little cloak effect on the Chapel of St. Basil, a Roman stage ("scaenae frons") from which to properly view his Transco tower - complete with cascading water, a Chicago skyscraper that resembles a demolished Masonic Temple (with gold leaf lobby), the list goes on....

He isn't the most serious 20th century architect - that honor goes to Mies; he isn't the most creative - that would be Frank Lloyd Wright; but he is the most whimsical.

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Johnson was very good for Houston. He gave Houston its easily recognizable skyline. Did he work alone or have partners? His designs are unique to say the least.

m.

He was partnered with John Burgee in the 70's and 80's. He also worked with Mies van der Rohe in the 50's, but I don't think they shared a practice.

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You've got to see it. The lobby is the best -- especially the round elevator shafts to the parking garage.

A few years ago when DT flooded there were great photos of the underground tunnels beneath Pzl Place. Since we worked there it was only distributed to employees. Absolutely bizarre. If you saw it now you would never know it was a river of fast running water like in a disaster film! Cool! Every store, restaurant etc was about 5 ft high of sludge. All the benches, plants just everything was swept into piles of debris. Now, they have thick steel doors to cut off in an emergency. Pzl place has been though so many renovations we couldnt keep up. IMO it seems quite dated now. Glad to not work there any more too! This place must have been the inspiration for "The Devil Wears Prada" (not going there) :wacko::ph34r:

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I love Pennzoil Place! I feel very fortunate to have been able to work there.

I think all of Johnson's work in Houston is stunning.

In Dallas on the other hand his efforts are much more underwhelming. Thanksgiving Square and the Kennedy Memorial are interesting pieces, while the Crescent Complex remains a significant landmark for the city although it remains architecturally questionable. The Bank One Tower (Momentum Place) was probably his most significant work in Dallas, but does not compare to works such as Pennzoil, Transco, or Bank of America in Houston.

Houston should be very proud.

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while the Crescent Complex remains a significant landmark for the city although it remains architecturally questionable. The Bank One Tower (Momentum Place) was probably his most significant work in Dallas, but does not compare to works such as Pennzoil, Transco, or Bank of America in Houston.

Houston should be very proud.

I had no idea he did those buildings in Dallas. In fact, I always just assumed (wrongly) that he only did stuff here in Houston (money's money though right?). Anyhow, know of any other Texas city (like Austin, San Antonio, etc.) structures he designed?

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I love Pennzoil Place! I feel very fortunate to have been able to work there.

I think all of Johnson's work in Houston is stunning.

In Dallas on the other hand his efforts are much more underwhelming. Thanksgiving Square and the Kennedy Memorial are interesting pieces, while the Crescent Complex remains a significant landmark for the city although it remains architecturally questionable. The Bank One Tower (Momentum Place) was probably his most significant work in Dallas, but does not compare to works such as Pennzoil, Transco, or Bank of America in Houston.

Houston should be very proud.

As always with Johnson, quite the mixed bag. Momentum Place is nice and has an impressive interior. To me the Kennedy Memorial is awful - wasn't there some talk of replacing it with something not so oppressive? Even new the Crescent screamed "kitsch!" and looks very much dated 1985. Of course, Houston has its Johnson turkeys as well, eg. Rothko Chapel. That and the Kennedy Memorial both come off as souless and empty, which is odd given their intended purposes.

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I had no idea he did those buildings in Dallas. In fact, I always just assumed (wrongly) that he only did stuff here in Houston (money's money though right?). Anyhow, know of any other Texas city (like Austin, San Antonio, etc.) structures he designed?

There's a book called Philip Johnson and Texas that you may want to check out.

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  • 2 weeks later...

The park, southwest corner of S. Main and Holcombe, is, I believe, a Johnson/Burgee design. It was built in a corner of the old Shamrock property where the tennis courts once were. It's very nice but somewhat lost on the edge of the swirling TMC. Did Johnson have a hand in this?

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I couldn't find any reference to Johnson being involved in the design of that park, but that doesn't mean he wasn't. It is a pleasant enough park with a nice fountain that the TMC built as a sort of meaningless penance for destroying the Shamrock. On the rest of the site is a parking lot, garage, and one of the ugliest office buildings in the city.

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  • 3 weeks later...

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